Claire Beale on Advertising: Technology means posters will stick around

I could tell you about Cannes – the Cannes Advertising Festival. But really most of London’s adland seems barely to have noticed that this is Cannes week.

With jobs being cut, budgets slashed and salaries frozen, many agencies have clearly decided that a few days sipping Domaine d’Ott on the terraces overlooking the Croisette is a tad, um, unseemly in the circumstances.

More on Cannes next week, but for the moment let’s assume that it will be a quiet affair and that most of London’s creatives will spend the coming week drinking nothing more exotic than warm lager outside Soho pubs without troubling the display in their awards cabinet.

So, on to a subject of a firmly pedestrian nature. Now, you won’t be surprised to hear that in an advertising industry obsessed with Twitter, apps, widgets and all the other sugary strands that make up the candyfloss of popular culture, the world’s oldest advertising medium has been left looking distinctly démodé. Posters. Who’d be in posters when there’s a new social media consumer to be hunted down and one-on-oned with?

True, significant pockets of the poster industry have successfully hauled themselves bang up to date and are doing some funky advertising stuff right now on a street corner near you.

More of which later. But no question, posters are having a tough time of it at the moment.

Revenues have fallen by 20 per cent and an awful lot of the bog-standard roadside stock is creaking in the wind of change. Tired and inflexible in a media world of real-time communication and interactivity, the neighbourhood poster site is in the rough.

Take the story of Aviva. Last week the insurance company claimed that its recent poster campaign had been allowed to stay up on sites well beyond the paid-for period because no other advertisers wanted to buy the space. Cue the doom-merchants hailing the story as further evidence that posters are on their uppers.

The trouble is there aren’t many opportunities for agencies to prove their painfully cutting-edge credentials when it comes to posters. And marketing fashion is about dialogue and interaction. You can’t have a relationship with a poster site.

And then there’s the recession. While all media are suffering, those that offer careful targeting, transactional opportunities and data capture are suffering less. The poster medium on the whole struggles to tick some of these key boxes.

All of which explains why you will now start to see fewer poster sites when you’re out and about. The industry is in culling mode. It can’t sell all the inventory it has, so some of the one-time banker stock is being taken down and thrown on the bonfire. Hundreds of big poster sites will be disappearing from our streets over the coming months, and the ones that are left will be smarter, cleaner and more creatively ripe.

It’s just the sort of detoxing the medium desperately needs if it is to finally throw off its old-fashioned and murky image and stand confidently alongside today’s modern media.

The poster industry has already embraced digital signage – in intent if not in universal fact – meaning moving images and better targeting. But it’s really the collision of the mobile phone and the poster site that offers the most exciting opportunities.

From scanning bar codes on posters with your mobile in order to be sent money-off coupons to LCD screens that allow you to change the way a poster looks by using your phone’s touchscreen. Suddenly it’s a medium with new creative and interactive possibilities.

And as those adlanders not in Cannes might acknowledge, posters are still the main advertising medium likely to grab your attention outside a pub.

Best in Show: Honda (Wieden & Kennedy)

At the beginning of the year Honda closed its Swindon factory. It didn’t want to make redundancies, despite the collapse of the car market, so it shut up shop for a few months.

The decision was clear evidence of a brand that, when the crunch came, remained true to the values encapsulated in its marketing.

Now Swindon has reopened and Honda has launched a marketing campaign through Wieden & Kennedy to celebrate. This is one of the posters, but there are some lovely press executions too, with well-crafted copy and a clean |design. Isn’t it nice when brands do as they say?